The following is Part II of an interview Josh Koehn had with San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed in his City Hall office Friday, Aug. 8. Click to read the first part of their conversation. Excerpts have been edited for grammar and clarity.
Josh Koehn: You did mention that you are probably going to work on the 2016 ballot measure for state pension reform. What’s that like, asking someone for money who’s not family? What it’s like when you call someone up and, ‘Oh, man, I’m not going to ask them for $500, I’m going to ask them for $50,000, $500,000.’
Mayor Chuck Reed: It’s really not all that different asking for $10,000 or $50,000 than it is asking for $500 or $1,000, because you’re talking to different groups of people. If somebody can write that kind of check, it’s obviously significant. But it’s just as hard to ask somebody for $1,000 as it is for $50,000.
You just have to know who you’re talking to.
You got to to know who you’re talking to, what their interest is and what they’re likely to support, because there are a lot of people—even though they might have a billion dollars—they’re not going to write you a check for $1,000, because they don’t care about the issue. Of course, if you’re asking for $500 or $1,000 it’s usually not issue driven. They’re doing it because they like you.
You get the legacy question a lot, I’m sure, especially now with this being the last year (in office). I’m not so concerned about what your legacy is right in this one moment, but 10 years from now, 15-20 years from now. How do you think history will look back at your administration?
There’s three things that I think are significant enough to stand the test of time and be significant 10 years from now. One is saving the city from insolvency and the decisions we had to make in 2011, all the things we’ve done there. Now, 20 years from now, maybe the fact that we had troubles won’t be significant. Buy that’s one category. All the fiscal reforms—and pension reform is only part of that—to save the city from a disaster. Second, the open government reforms, which we’re just about to codify in ordinance and resolutions and that will be in place in front of the council in two or three weeks. … The open government reforms and sunshine stuff, it’s a combination of the Reed Reforms and the ethic reforms and a whole bunch of things. There are probably 75 different provisions all together. And the third category is economic development. Time will tell if we were successful in keeping Silicon Valley the innovation center of the world. The work that I’ve done in that, I think, is important. But we’ll see if we were successful or not. A lot of places in the world would like to take away our innovation. The state of California and federal government don’t make it easier. They’re making it harder. And they may have sown the seeds of destruction with some of the current policies on immigration, for example. Things like that have really undercut Silicon Valley.
Is there anything you look back in hindsight you would have said (in an interview), or regretted saying or wish you would have phrased differently? I know one that a lot of people comment about is that “gravy train” line.
Oh, yeah. Sure. That one is one it would have been better if I hadn’t used it, which is what I told the cops. It was not received the way it was intended. And I’m responsible for how my words are received as well as how I intend them. So, yeah, that one. But in the course of god only knows how many political campaigns and pieces, if I only had one bad choice of words, I figure that’s pretty good. Because I had many opportunities to say something to offend somebody. But I’ve been pretty good about not saying things. And I don’t talk to people when I’m angry.
I think that’s pretty impressive to have microphones in your face and be making public comments and to only be able to look back at one time in eight years.
Maybe you should ask Michelle (McGurk, spokesperson for the mayor). She probably has a list of ‘what the mayor meant to say.’
Michelle McGurk: I think the one thing that was taken out of context and run with by the unions was the (unfunded liability) projections of where the pensions—
Oh, the $650 million?
I don’t regret having said it. It was true.
McGurk: But the fact that somebody doesn’t understand math, and how the financial projections work and all of that, I think that’s one of the bigger challenges.
They would still fight you on that, saying that $650 million was always a bloated overstatement.
That’s what they say. That’s how they characterize it. The grand jury looked at it and thought it was a fine use of information.
You can’t tell that to NBC, either.
They can say whatever they want, but I don’t regret saying it because it was true, properly qualified and all that sort of stuff. … The other thing is this was all done in the context of a political campaign, it was the 2012 campaign. So for a year, nobody thought anything about that statement until they suddenly decided they could try to make something out of it in the course of a political campaign. I forget which ballot measure it was a run up to, Measure B, I guess. We polled during that time and you know what the public thought about that statement?
Nothing. They didn’t care. ‘The mayor exaggerated this and said that.’ They didn’t care. It made no difference to the voters.
$650 million, $430 million—I mean, there’s a big difference and at the same time it’s a huge problem regardless of which number you want to use.
It made no difference to the voters. I’m happy they spent all their time and energy on something that didn’t matter to the voters.
I was going to ask you who was the most worthless council member since you’ve been around here. I figure you wouldn’t want to answer that one.
One of the things I learned from a former Air Force general was, ‘Never tell a lie but don’t blab the truth.’ I was telling my Air Force Academy buddies, ‘The never tell a lie part, that’s easy. But don’t blab the truth, that’s really hard.’